Vowing to put systems in place to prevent what he called ‘fronting’ and ‘renting’ of citizens, Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat, rebuked the practices as unfair to Guyanese who have stayed and worked in Guyana to make the country what it is today.
Fronting occurs when nationals of a country are listed as shareholders, executives, or management, without real participation or benefit actually being afforded to the country’s people.
Bharrat made the comment on Thursday during a Local Content-themed event held by the Private Sector Commission (PSC) in Georgetown. And he grounded his points firmly within the context of the government’s recent public dispute with Ramps Logistics over whether it deserved to be granted a Local Content Certificate under the recently instituted law.
The government, Bharrat said, is not afraid to speak on the matter. He said its position is clear. The government granted Ramps the certification after being compelled to do so by court order because, as Bharrat said, “We are a government that respects the rule of law.”
However, he said the government is serious about addressing the issue of people trying to acquire Guyanese passports just because of family affiliation.
“There are concerns by the government that people cannot show up or fall out the sky… and say oh, ‘I’m Guyanese to the bone.’… Because it is only fair that us here who stayed, who worked, who toiled, who sacrificed to develop this country, that we should benefit first,” Bharrat said. “And not people who were born elsewhere, but today, they come to reclaim their Guyanese citizenship just for benefits. We are serious about that.”
Here is the context where Ramps is concerned. Ramps made a series of moves to conform to the letter of the Local Content Act, where the definition of a Guyanese company is concerned. Being a certified Guyanese company affords the entity preferential treatment in the evaluation processes of prime contractors, for the award of contracts. One of the requirements for this certification is to have at least 51% of the company’s shares be owned by Guyanese nationals or businesses.
In this regard, Ramps divested the majority stake in its company to man named Deepak Lall who was not born in Guyana and acquired his Guyanese passport just last year. This meant Ramps met this critical requirement under the Local Content Act. But when the company called a press conference in June, to discuss the Secretariat’s refusal to issue the certificate, reporters raised questions about the background and whereabouts of Ramps’ new majority Guyanese shareholder.
“It is unfair, and it’s hurtful too that you can just show up because you have a Guyana passport, never paid a dollar to develop this country, don’t even know how that road was built or how that school was built, or how people [were] punishing for water in Berbice like I did, or how children [were] studying with flambo and kerosene lamp back in the days,” Bharrat said. “But you just show up. You just show up just like that and want benefits.”
Deepak Lall, according to a media package Ramps had distributed, is the managing director of Qualitech Machining Services Limited, a Trinidadian company. Ramps’ Chief Executive, Shaun Rampersad, had said Lall, who Ramps has previous business ties to, plans to come to Guyana with big investment plans outside of his involvement with Ramps. When questioned in June, he had not agreed with the perspective that Lall applied for his Guyanese passport as a convenience but explained that Lall means to come back and invest in Guyana and capitalise on the growth the country is experiencing.
When the Local Content Act was being drafted, Bharrat explained, there were suggestions that the definition of a Guyanese national be restricted to someone who was born in Guyana and/or is a resident. The government decided against it. Bharrat said government had hoped companies would understand the government’s intentions and act professionally.
The administration’s next step will be informed by a series of meetings when Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo returns from overseas. He said the President, the Vice President, and himself, will put their heads together and chart the way forward.
Among the government’s considerations, where Ramps is concerned, is the appeal of the recent High Court ruling.